of Portuguese Historiography:
An Opportunity Stemming from a Challenge
Adão da Fonseca
University of Porto
of the most important objectives of this journal is the greater popularization
of contemporary Portuguese historiography, as well as the related goal
of a deeper understanding on the part of the international academic community
of research being done in Portuguese history in all its varied fields
and many methodological traditions. In this sense, the increase in internationally-oriented
work on the part of Portuguese historical researchers which expands
the audience for this research presents itself as the logical corollary
to this journal's aforementioned objective. For this reason it should
be understood that this subject appears straightaway in the first issue
of the journal, included in the section devoted to topics for discussion.
This has from the start looked to be one of the most dynamic aspects of
The journals aforementioned objective of popularizing contemporary
Portuguese historiography raises various questions: What does the desire
to internationalize a historiographical tradition mean in practice? And,
more specifically, what exactly does the adjective "Portuguese"
refer to when applied to this same historiography?
Let us for now leave aside the first of these questions and begin by considering
the second. In reality, the word "Portuguese" is by no means
necessarily limited to a purely national context. Though the national
context is certainly important, the term points towards much broader horizons,
corresponding to the different geographical areas with which Portuguese
history has been related in the past. This journal thus serves a great
variety of interests and concerns and is accordingly open to a similarly
diverse range of writers and contributors. As such, it should not be seen
as simply an "international" opening for one specific group
of historians, but above all as a welcome forum for research and intellectual
discussion. The term "internationalization" should thus be regarded
as a means to an end rather than an end in itself.
Then again, it is important to bear in mind that when we talk about the
internationalization of "Portuguese" history, we may often describe
realities that do not always coincide. What kind of internationalization
are we dealing with here - internationalization of a research theme, or
internationalization of those people who tackle it in their work? In fact,
looking at the biographies of those from the previous generation of historians
who were internationally-oriented, we may well ask if these possibilities
can be separated. Moreover, considering the current demands on universities
and contemporary research, should they not be of secondary concern?
That is, should the aim of an academic study be to open up the topic of
research to an international audience if, at the same time, this may cut
it off from the concrete experience of those who wish to play a central
part in this same initiative? Indeed, seeing as there is ultimately no
such thing as historiography without the names and faces that lend it
personality, is effective internationalization at all possible if it is
not based on a strong sense of continuity, which, beyond individual researchers,
promotes research groups and teams?
In this sense the purpose of internationalization can be seen as a means
of taking stock of that which, with varying levels of success, has already
been done. However, it is vital to develop a clear idea of what our prospective
intentions are and how to promote and pursue them. Ultimately, we will
have to follow this route, even though it is evident that it implies questions
that are not always easy to resolve. Let us look at some of these implications.
What exactly is the historiographical 'world' that the journal is intended
to promote? We thus return to the question of just what is meant by "Portuguese"
in terms of Portuguese historiography.
What kind of structural 'network' needs to be set up for such a 'world'
to operate effectively? This is not easy to answer because of the need
to provide the appropriate support mechanism (or mechanisms) to whoever
assumes the responsibility of promoting the network in question.
Since it is not possible to cover all the 'bases' in every single 'game',
what is the best means of encouraging the internationalization that is
sought for? The question is problematic since scholars of "Portuguese"
history - in its widest sense and encompassing Europe, America, Africa,
and Asia - live in places that differ considerably in social and cultural
Finally, it is important to observe that even in this broadened field
of investigation, 'globalization' likewise historiographical -
involves strategies that are both affirmative and sustainable, and which,
in order to be effective, demand that priorities be determined. And yet
who is to define them, and how?
In short, these are some of the many questions raised by a simple theme
the internationalization of Portuguese historiography. The editors
of the E-Journal of Portuguese History are the first to realize
that it is not easy to find solutions that are to everyone's satisfaction.
But this should not deter us from pursuing this theme. Essentially, this
is a path that we must stick to, even if at first it may be hard to catch
sight of the finish line.
The advantages of having research teams have already been referred to,
but what is the best group profile, small homogeneous groups or larger
teams with more of an inter-disciplinary character? And what about the
cultural make-up of these groups - should they primarily be composed of
members of a single nationality? And, incidentally, to what extent will
it be necessary to form cross-cultural teams made up of different Portuguese-speaking
historians? Would it be sensible to privilege a few who, in certain fields,
may serve as pivotal points in the 'network'?
The need to forge personal contacts between Portuguese historians and
colleagues of different nationalities has also been mentioned. However,
it is very easy for this issue to break the consensus and lead to all
manner of problems and uncertainties. Here are a few examples.
What is the most appropriate kind of international presence? To some extent,
this is a question of what is the most effective means of achieving this
presence (publications? books and/or journals? congresses and scientific
conferences? research teams?), but above all it is a question of what
is the preferred language (Portuguese? English? flexibility in choosing
how to reach the intended cultural areas?). That is to say, in this supposedly
intentional effort, are certain cultural areas to be given priority status,
or will all be treated alike?
There is one final question that refers primarily to Portuguese historians.
Namely, is the aim of internationalization independent from the areas
of their research? That is, does it matter or not if practising historians
of so-called "Portuguese history", in its widest sense, also
participate in other, non-Portuguese fields of research?
Indeed, are there any specific areas of study that favor this approach?
Is it desirable in this cross-border initiative to list the positives
and negatives? For example, as far as Europe is concerned, what are the
advantages and drawbacks of broadening the scale of the Iberian Peninsula
and of meridional (or Mediterranean) Europe by extending historians' horizons
so as to be able to contemplate progressively wider contexts? And the
same can be said about America, or at least South America, as well as
Africa and Asia, where it is possible to draw up similar lists. In this
context, will such specialized geographical terms still be applicable
to "Portuguese history"?
I wish to conclude by returning to a question raised earlier. Because
history clearly demonstrates the importance of sociological conditions
that have across the ages affected each generation of historians in approaching
the issue of internationalization, an international orientation on the
part of historians, especially of the generation who are now embarking
on their journey, appears increasingly to be an essential requisite of
the desired internationalization of historiography. In fact, in a relatively
small space like Portugal, it is a truly vital demand because it is only
through such global cross-fertilization of historians that a credible
basis for the opening up of the frontiers of historiography can be achieved.
Therefore, in accordance with the aforementioned concerns, the editors
of the journal have decided to subject this controversial issue to the
careful scrutiny of three historians, whose personal and professional
experiences may be different, but who all have an unswerving interest
in the question at hand. Each of them has responded differently, highlighting
opinions that do not always coincide, yet are all undeniably interesting.
Following these contributions, we have decided to keep the discussion
open beyond this issue of the journal. We hope that it may provide a stimulus
and starting point for others, who may or may not share the same views
as those expressed here. In future issues, we will thus print these points
of view in the belief that thereby everyone will benefit.
2003, ISSN 1645-6432
e-JPH, Vol.1, number 1, Summer 2003